Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Auburn Trails 50K

I’ll begin this report with the obligatory apology regarding the lack of pictures. I’d left my camera at a friend’s, and didn’t discover until race morning that my husband’s camera apparently doesn’t fit into the pocket on my water bottle. So, once again, no pictures. Sorry. (Personally, I think reports with no pictures are often kind of boring, so if you choose to stop reading here, I won’t blame you. Go ahead.)

As part of my training plan for the TRT 50M in July, I chose two races in June: the Auburn Trails 50K, and the Burton Creek Trail Marathon. Both of these races were to be included as part of high-mileage training weeks. However, by the time Thursday rolled around last week, I realized that I had only run 18 miles (and wouldn’t have time for much more on Friday). How did this happen? I demanded of my self. I have no clue! came the exasperated response. Even I, a notoriously lazy and low-mileage ultrarunner, wouldn’t really call 50-55 for the week “high mileage.” (Although it would only take another 10-15 miles for the moniker to fit, in my world.)

I decided my best plan to make up for my slothful efforts would be to run hard at Auburn Trails. I was essentially well-rested, and mentally ready to push myself at something. It was a good time for a race.

I arrived at Auburn’s Overlook Park on a cool and cloudy Saturday morning with about 70 other runners. Everyone seems to be complaining about the lack of heat-training this spring, but I have been perfectly happy with the unseasonably cool temps. I don’t need heat-training for TRT!

I hesitated at my car, indecisive over my attire for the day. The forecast had said chance of rain, but it didn’t really look like it would do much more than drizzle, and it felt quite warm compared to Truckee. I briefly contemplated running in just my shorts and sports bra, but finally opted for the addition of a short-sleeved shirt. These decisions should not be made lightly you know! There were multiple reasons for my “shirt-on” choice, but, sadly, this was the most prominent:

When I see a woman toeing the line, clad in little more than shorts and a sports bra, she looks fast and I assume she will be the winner. I didn’t want anyone making those kinds of assumptions about me. Who needs that pressure!

Okay, I know this is probably just a stereotype that I have, but I swear it’s true! Let’s look at the evidence from my racing schedule so far this year:

AR 50—Well, I wasn’t near the start when the gun went off, but according to photos, all the top women were decked out in singlets covered in sponsor logos. Okay, score one against my theory.

Billy Dutton—Um, it was too cold to go sleeveless!

Diablo Marathon—Prudence: Sports bra, 1st place. Score one for my theory!

Escape From Prison Hill Half—The top two women (Elizabeth Lyles and Shannon Rahlves) both wore sports bras. Can this count as two more points for my theory?

Rock N’ River Marathon—Elizabeth Lyles: Sports bra, 1st place.

So anyway, I guess you can see where I get this idea that shirtless chicks run fast.

Gathering at the start, I saw a few familiar faces. I spotted Joe Palubeski, and scanned the crowd for the rest of Sunsweet’s “Team Red Bluff,” but they were conspicuously absent. In fact, I noticed that the vast majority of the runners were men. Where were all the women?

I positioned myself slightly back from the front line, and was soon joined by Peter Lubbers. He hadn’t been feeling well all week, and consequently he was holding back enough that I got to run the first few miles with him.

The course headed downhill for the first four and a half miles to No Hands Bridge. After crossing the bridge, we did two laps on the Olmstead Loop, beginning with a steep hill known as “K2.”

By the first hill climb, Peter had moved ahead, and I found myself running with a runner from Davis named Mark. We passed the time sharing training and racing tales until we hit Norm and Helen Klein’s aid station, about half way through the loop.

I was feeling relaxed and enjoying the weather. The wildflowers seemed abundant for this late in the year, and I wondered if that was due to the cool, wet conditions we had been experiencing.

The tallest grasses had already turned to dry wheat, but there was a new growth of green underneath. They whispered softly under the wind’s caress, rolling waves across a golden, green sea. I was running alone now, and filled with the peaceful escape of time on the trail.

At the Cool aid station, I was told that I was in second place for the women. As I headed back toward No Hands, I wondered how far ahead first place was. Approaching the aid station, there is a very short out-and-back section. I was disappointed that I didn’t see the first place woman on this section. I figured that meant she was at least five minutes ahead of me, and possibly quite a bit more.

The day was warming up a bit (although temps would top out at about 71) and I decided to leave my shirt at No Hands. At the aid station, I sucked down about my 8th GU of the day. For some reason, I ate way more Gu’s than usual for a 50K, and little else.

Hiking up K2 for the second time, I realized I needed to let go of the idea of catching first place. She could be miles ahead for all I knew.

After the hill, I was bounding pleasantly down the trail, when I remembered my pledge to run this race hard. Was I running hard? I asked myself. I only had about 13 miles to go, I figured. If this was a road marathon with only 13 miles to go, how hard would I be running? Certainly harder than this! I picked up the pace.

Somehow, making the analogy to a road marathon changed my perspective on the race. The course had a few hills, but most of it was pretty fast and runnable. It was here that I realized this axiom: Most 50K’s are more akin to a marathon than to an ultra. The flip side of this idea is that some marathons (like, um, Diablo!) have more in common with most ultras than with other marathons.

Anyway, the point is, with 13 miles to go, I finally started running at race pace.

At the next aid station, Norm asked if I wanted a tattoo. Having no clue what he was talking about, I said, “Sure.” He proceeded to whip out a sharpie and write his name on my thigh. As I stood there and laughed, he added to the artwork with hearts and arrows and such. The best part was Helen standing there rolling her eyes at him.

“Oh God,” she chided. “He thinks he’s such a big shot!”

I know Norm has a bit of a reputation as a grump, but he cracks me up. He has also done me some kindnesses over the years, and I think he’s great, in spite of the fact that he never remembers my name.

He sent me off with instructions not to bathe for a week. (I promise, Norm. I haven’t washed it off!)

I was running hard now, and both my heart rate and breathing had increased noticeably. The downhills were smooth, and I felt awesome.

After a short while, I approached a pair of runners ahead of me. I was shocked when I realized that it was Peter and the first woman, who turned out to be Lainie Callahan-Mattoon. I had totally given up on catching her, and now suddenly here she was.

I gave a few friendly words and ran right on by them. I felt a little rude not slowing to chat, but I had a great pace going and I didn’t want to break my momentum. As I headed down the trail, Peter called out behind me, “Watch out for Lainie! She has the afterburners!”

I contemplated the fact that I was now leading the women’s race, and I felt kind of nervous about it. It’s not unusual for me to compete for a top five spot in a race, but when was the last time I had worked for first place? I’d won the Burton Creek 20 miler last year, but I’d led the entire thing from start to finish and never once saw any of my competition. This was way more nerve-racking.

I tried to focus on just holding the same, steady pace, but the entire time I was wondering if Lainie would catch me. As I ran into the Cool aid station, I could hear people cheering for her behind me, so I knew she was still close.

I didn’t waste any time at the aid station, and as I ran out, I looked back and still couldn’t see her on her way in.

It was mostly downhill to No Hands, which isn’t really my strength in running. I figured if I could hold her off until I crossed the river, I could probably hammer the last 4.5 uphill to the Overlook and hold my ground.

I moved through the aid station with a mission, and I think the volunteers could see it in my eyes. As soon as I approached, they jumped up and moved fast to get me out of there quickly. They did a great job!

As I ran up the hill on the other side of No Hands, I glanced back at the deserted trail behind me. For some reason, I was surprised to be still in the lead.

I had recalled this section of trail to be fairly steep, but as it turned out, it was quite a runnable uphill. I stayed focused, and enjoyed the feeling of really pushing myself.

Near the top, I passed Roger Laesure, and he called out to my retreating form, “Oh, you’re killing me, Pippi Longstocking!” I had to laugh. Do the pigtails keep me from looking like a serious runner or something?

As I crossed the line, the ever-smiling Jeff Barbier was there to cheer me on and congratulate me! Hooray, I had support! Hmm, it felt just like AR 50, finishing in this same park.

Robert Matthis immediately handed me a certificate for a pair of Innov-8 shoes, and I was stoked. RD’s take note here—please give useful prizes like this instead of plaques! It doesn’t even have to be as fancy as a pair of shoes, (although that is pretty darn cool). It should just be useful, you know, like socks, or insulated coffee mugs, or whatever!

I had a wedding reception to attend in the evening, but I still had enough time for a little socializing. I sat around in the sun with Joe, Peter, Roger, Greg Bomhoff, and a few of the other men and enjoyed Linda’s freshly grilled hamburger and a Coke. Such a nice way to end the day.

I was a little disappointed with my finishing time of 5:44, until I found out that the course was nearly 3 miles longer than 50K. Last year’s course started from the fire station in Cool, and ran about three and a half loops on the same stretch of trail. This year, we started at the overlook, ran down to No Hands, and then did only two loops before running back up to the overlook. I didn’t ask Robert why he changed the course, but I suspect it had something to do with the novelty of getting to run across historic No Hands Bridge twice, plus the scenic aspects of that stretch of the Western States trail. It also made for a cool race logo. I have to say, I think I like this course better, in spite of the extra miles (or perhaps because of them).

I felt tired, and it was a good feeling. I was happy with my day.

I’m pretty sure I can attribute my win to one of two things (or perhaps the combination of both). It was either A.) running with no shirt for the second half of the race (score another point for my theory!) or B.) Norm Klein’s tattoo. We’ll never know which one was the deciding factor, but sometimes Norm works an aid station at TRT, and I definitely plan on asking him for a tattoo on race day.

Thanks to Robert, Linda and their team of volunteers for another professional event!

To make up for my lack of photos, here is some footage from the wedding reception later that evening. It was a cowboy themed party, thus the mechanical bull. If you can’t tell in the video, I was having a hell of a good time.


  1. Awesome recap, and congrats! I try to stay away from you fast people who wear hardly anything out there. ;)

    (And I want to go to a wedding with a mechanical bull...)

  2. Dude, that was AWESOME! I laughed almost the entire way through that vid. :) Congrats to you on your win! You make it seem so easy, and yet your colorful descriptions of the lay of the land make for a wonderful read~ Thanks for that Gretch!

  3. Am I wrong or did you use the word "chick"? I thought that was a big no-no.

  4. great run, and congrats on the well earned win. what a stud! not to diminish the power of tats, but i think your shirtless theory was what got you to the line faster...or maybe that's just me :)
    good luck at TRT.

  5. Great report, Gretchen! Congrats on a cranking it up those last miles to finish--I can't say I enjoyed those extra miles too much, but I do agree it was a nicer course.
    Norm is too funny! He signed Lainie as well.
    And... I think you should consider a career in bull riding (more money in that than ultra running)!

  6. No I hear you, sometimes the people who look fast are fast. Caitlin Smith who is super speedy around here likes to wear the shorts and sports bra thing too. Prudence as you mentioned has the same look and both went 1 and 2 at Ohlone 50k. So there, my addition to your theory. Thankfully this hasn't caught up to the guys yet but I swear at Diablo 50-miler I wanted to take a pair of scissors to my shirt. I wanted to cut from the chest down. Just enough to keep my shoulders protected from sunburn.

    Congratulations speedster! How freaking exciting, making the pass and running like a thief with nowhere to hide all the way to the finish. Yeeehaaa. Had you brought your camera you wouldn't have taken much pictures at this point anyway.

    Thanks for all the support for San Diego! Much appreciated.

  7. Holy. CRAP! Great report, and a fantastic job. Luckily, I'm far too slow to find myself in such a stressful position.

    Yeah: "Luckily".


  8. Thanks for the congrats and compliments everyone. I'm sure being well rested and the small size of the women's field were not big factors in my success.

    Chris- Given that you are a tattooed runner, your opinion has clout. however, I noticed from the Run Amuck photos that you are not against running in a sports bra yourself. Perhaps you are biased here? ;)

    Peter- Funny, I was thinking the same thing about the bull riding career. It's so fun! Except a real Bull would be too scary!

    Rick- Caitlin was actually someone that came to mind as an example too, but since I haven't been at any of the same races as her, it didn't really work as personal evidence.
    I would love it if you started a trend of men running in cut-off shirts! ;)

    Russ- You're not slow, you're just running at races with too many fast people!

    Anonymous- A couple of things, before I actually respond to your comment. First, thanks for the comment, and for remembering my "chicked" diatribe from last year's Diablo post! I'm stoked that someone actually read (and remembered!) something I wrote over a year ago! Also, one of the things I'd like to promote more of in my blog is some dialogue in the comments, so this could be good for that. Second, I think you are my first ever anonymous commenter! Congratulations! I have a prize for you. It's a gift certificate for a free pair of Merrell shoes. (It expired in January though. Sorry, you should have commented sooner!)

    Okay, so regarding use of the word "chick." In my previous diatribe I was referring strictly to the use of the word as a verb. As in: "Dude, you totally got chicked!" If anyone needs more explanation on this, please see last year's Diablo post (Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea). Aside from pure satire, I can't think of a situation where the use of "chick" as a verb is appropriate. In this post on AT50K I used "chick" as a noun. Very different. Unfortunately, its appropriateness is also more ambiguous. Sometimes it's cool, sometimes it's offensive. As with many other things, so often in language, it is all about context. For example, if I were at a conference giving a presentation about, say, the use of poetry in the middle school classroom, and I overheard someone say later, "Some chick just gave a talk on poetry," that would be lame. Obviously the word was chosen to indicate that the speaker was boring/stupid/not worthy, or whatever. In this blog post however, I felt the word "chick" (rather than "girl" or "woman") conveyed a sense of sassiness that I wanted to associate with the idea of running shirtless. Like yelling, "Hey, look, I'm not always this goody-goody school teacher. Sometimes I run around half naked and I don't care if I look fat, or if I look like Pipi Longstocking, because I feel great and I am flying and I have the wind at my back!" You know what I'm sayin?

    I am actually glad you asked about this, even if you are just someone I know who is teasing me. The thing is, I am an English teacher. If you wanted a lecture on nouns vs. verbs, the subtle nuances of language, and the difference between connotation and denotation...well, you came to the right place I guess.
    Anyone else have thoughts on this?

  9. Hi Gretchen!

    Your post painted a great picture of the race, with or without pics, but the vid of the mechanical bull ride...that needed footage!..good job, and congrats on the win!


  10. Wow, for a chick, Gretchen, you sure are smart :)

  11. All I can say is that I've seen some triathlete women who run in sports bras and a shirt and they have more body fat hanging out from under that sports bra than I have on my whole body (and that's a fair amount!!!). They don't win.

    Your rule must not work for triathlon.

    Anyway, congratulations on kicking some ass... or boob loaf... out there! I'm glad to see that you're over your slump from last year finally and things are all falling into place.

  12. Screw the cutoff. I'm buying a sports bra. Rick will follow eventually.

    I agree. When I or other guys use the word "chick," it inherently connotes strength, speed and is self-deprecating for the man getting it (chicked that is and using the term). Obviously women can use it. But yeah, maybe it is one of your friends just fooling with you.

    You've improved enough that you might want to just leave the camera. Sometimes I miss it, but I usually can borrow someone else's photos for these reports.


  13. G-
    You did so well on this race. I felt like the rude one not stopping afterwards and congratulating you as you so deserved it!... but I thought i was going to die. I believe it was a combination of the second round of antibiotics from my neverending strep and lack of sleep from my little twins keeping me up all night, every night but regardless of that you earned that win! You are a great competitor. You made my head spin when you ran past me. Not gonna lie!...I thought I had it in the bag, so I chilled with Peter and just chatted it up. Lesson learned though, you never know who is gonna getcha :) Hope to see you soon. Lainie